Work Out and Protect Black Hair? No Sweat

Nicole Ari Parker (Courtesy of WBLS)
Nicole Ari Parker (Courtesy of WBLS)

Just writing this column is taking much longer than it should have. Why? Because of excuses.


In college I learned the phrase, "Excuses are the tools of the incompetent upon which monuments of nothingness are built." The oft-repeated axiom was supposed to motivate me to study harder and be a better person in general. In the end it made me feel like a slacker.

I was a fine connoisseur of exemption back then. If a paper was so far past its due date that it reeked, it was because I didn't have time to properly "delve" into the material, not because I'd tried a Long Island iced tea for the first (or sixth) time the night before. Late tuition checks were always "in the mail." And the gym? Don't even get me started on the gym.

For many young professional African-American women, freshman year was when we joined the sorority of hair. There was the ritual of finding your own "stylist" and sacrificing a nice chunk of your work-study paycheck every two weeks at her altar. Your hair quickly became something that had to be "done," like homework and losing your virginity. It was a status symbol that had to be preserved. Exercise, and the inevitable sweat that followed, was the antithesis of looking polished, grown-up and capable.

If you hit the gym, then your hair suffered. All that sweat would wreak havoc on the flat-iron do that you paid good money for. A choice had to be made. And in many cases, women ruled in favor of their hair over their health. I was one of them, until actress Nicole Ari Parker came along.

In August 2011, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said, " … When you're starting to exercise, you look for reasons not to, and sometimes the hair is one of those reasons." In response to Benjamin's exposure of the dirty little secret that most black women cling to when it comes to choosing a press over the bench press, Parker, like Madam C.J. Walker before her, dreamed up a solution: the Save Your Do Gymwrap. Ladies, we've been outed.

The gym wrap is a specially designed headband that allows its wearer to have a hard-core workout without sacrificing her hairdo. Using Parker's patented "edge control technology," the headband repels moisture, releases heat and helps your hair lie flat while you break a sweat.


"It's really about being part of the solution," explained Parker to ESPN in March when the wrap was released. She added, "We, as women, just want to put our best self forward all the time. Between the kids, the jobs and everything, no matter what color you are, cardio is probably not on the top of your list. You think you need the newest shoe and the newest outfit. We forget exercising is free."

The gym wrap, however, is not, but it is reasonably priced at $24.95 to $29.95. With 10 percent of proceeds going to the Sophie's Voice Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about spina bifida, there's absolutely no excuse not to try out Parker's creation. So I did.


I bought the "full triangle" wrap — one of three options that also include the narrow band and the wide band. From my days as a professional cheerleader, I knew that short hair that can't be pulled into a ponytail needs wider coverage during a workout to avoid frizzing up your edges, your "kitchen" and your crown. So I tied on my new sweatband, making sure to cover my entire head, and hopped on a bike for a two-mile ride.

The gym wrap isn't an anti-perspirant, so in no way does it stop you from sweating. Instead, the three layers of "anti-wicking" material in the wrap function to "grab" sweat before it wets your hair, allow heat to escape and let cool air in. Parker also added a bonus: sateen fabric on the inside of the headband that keeps hair smooth, much like the satin pillowcases or wraps that many black women sleep with at night.


After the bike ride, which was mostly uphill and hot, I unwrapped my hair and was pleasantly surprised that it not only stayed in place but was still flowy and dry when I shook it out. So I decided to push Save Your Do even further and run another mile and a half to the grocery store to flaunt my unperturbed do in front of actual people.

By the time I'd jogged up to the sliding doors of my local Safeway, all was safe when it came to my short bob. I felt especially sporty, like a print-ad model for fitness, and not at all like a dripping painting. No one who saw me reacted as if I'd just run a marathon through a monsoon, which is what I usually look like after about 20 minutes of cardio.


Reviewers on YouTube felt the same way. Most reported a great experience with Save Your Do, from "normally my hair is soaked" to "wow" to "I'm pretty impressed." One warning, though: Don't get overzealous and tie the wrap too tight, which might result in headaches or light-headedness. One knot is enough to keep your hair in place and intact.

So now that there's a product out there that eliminates any textured hair as an excuse for not working out, even an excuse impresario such as myself can't hide from the gym — for long. I keep my Save Your Do out on the dresser as a reminder that (as always) all that's stopping me from a good workout is me. I don't know whether to hug or to hate Nicole Ari Parker. Maybe I'll decide after I get back from the gym.


Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root and the author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter. 

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.